Ofcom yesterday issued a consultation on its current list of designated ‘major parties’ for the purposes of the United Kingdom General Election to be held in May 2015.
The parameters for determining the parties on the current list are determined by the fact that this is an election to the government of the United Kingdom as a whole, with the traditional major measure of status being parties who field a substantial number of candidates across the United Kingdom as a whole.
Another traditional major criterion is evidence of electoral support across the United Kingdom, in seats and in electoral performance by candidates fielded across the UK.
As core determining criteria, both of these are beyond reproach in their rationality and in their security.
Ofcom says that in this review it has considered ‘whether the available evidence supports changing the list of major parties, and if so on what basis’.
In this matter it has considered and published on :
- evidence of past electoral support
- evidence of current electoral support – opinion poll data.
Under ‘evidence of past electoral support’ Ofcom has included ‘other types of election which have taken place since the 2010 General Election, and which are not being contested in May 2015’. These comprise ‘Westminster Parliamentary by-elections and elections to: the European Parliament; the Scottish Parliament; the National Assembly for Wales; the Northern Ireland Assembly; the London Assembly; Police and Crime Commissioner elections; and local elections in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland’.
Under ‘evidence of current electoral support’ Ofcom has considered evidence of such support ‘in relation to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as demonstrated by opinion poll data’. in a note on this, it says: Ofcom is not aware of any recent opinion polls of support for the political parties in England only. We have therefore used the Great Britain-wide polls as a proxy for gauging levels of current support in England only.’
What Ofcom is doing here is laying out the current designated major parties, UK-wide and regionally; and the criteria used in awarding that designation.
The purpose of the consultation is to determine whether, under the criteria, there is reason to add or subtract to these lists.
The lists determine the number of Party Election Broadcasts [PEBs] awarded to each party; and guides broadcasters as to the parties to be included in any debates which may be televised.
We understand that the SNP will very shortly announce that it is to challenge Ofcom’s current designations.
While it will have to do this formally through the consultation process – which will impact upon the allocation of PEB’s and inclusion in any debates to be televised in relation to the May General Election – it will certainly issue its challenge through the more sensationalist headlines of media coverage.
Another aspect of the Ofcom consultation is to harvest views on a couple of proposed amendments – such as going Ofcom the right to dismiss a clearly unsupportable appeal rather than, as at present, be compelled to launch a dull investigation, regardless of obvious unsutainabilty of particular cases. This is a heavily burdensome.time consuming and expensive obligation.
The consultation closes at 5pm on Thursday 5th February 2015;l and the full Ofcom consultation document is linked at the foot of this article.
Overall UK population and component proportions
In an election for a parliament whose responsibilities are for the United Kingdom as a whole AND, in the current mess of ad hockery, for England. where all other membes of the UK have devolved administrations responsible of varied packages of responsibilities, simple reason requires awareness of the proportionate make-up of the UK in terms of populations.
Recently released 2013 population data shows a rise of almost a million from 2011 in the overall UK population – to 64.10 million.
However, since the 2013 figures for the component populations have not yet been released, the figures below are all based on the 2011 census data which showed the overall UK population then as 63.3 million.
Against that 2011 overall UK figure of 63.3 million:
- England, with a 2011 population of 53.1 million, has 83.88% of the overall UK population.
- Scotland, with a 2011 population of 5.3 million, has 8.37% of the overall UK population.
- Wales, with a 2011 population 3.06 million, has 4.83% of the overall UK population.
- Northern Ireland, with a 2011 of 1.81 million, has 2.85% of the overall UK population.
The UK’s indefensible constitutional hotch potch will be even more skewed when the Smith Commission recomendations for the transfer of substantial additional powers to Scotland get to the Statute Book after the General Election.
In our view, the reality of the current composition of the UK as obvious in the population statistics above and the appallingly skewed devolution of self-determination which will then be the case – with Scotland all but independent and England with no powers whatsoever over its own affairs, makes the case for a change to a federal United Kingdom unanswerable.
Looking at England, with 84% of the UK population
Ofcom notes the following position of the parties [and this material is extracted as a fair overall represenation of the positions given in Ofcom’s full paper]:
‘The three existing major parties (the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats) have each demonstrated:
- significant past electoral support in General Elections in England, all having achieved 22.9% of the vote and above in both 2005 and 2010;
- significant past electoral support in local elections in England, with their lowest share of the popular vote since 2009 being, respectively: the Conservative Party (25.9%); the Labour Party (12.7%) and the Liberal Democrats (11.1%).’
‘Evidence of current support on the basis of the Great Britain-wide polls in 2014, these polls indicated significant support for the Conservative Party (31.3% to 32.6%) and the Labour Party (35.0% to 36.1%). The relevant polls indicateda lower level of support for the Liberal Democrats (8.2% to 8.8%)’
‘UKIP has performed much more strongly in the last two sets of English local elections, in 2013 and 2014, obtaining 19.9% and 15.7% of the vote, respectively, in these years.’
‘UKIP demonstrated significant electoral support in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections, by being the largest party in England with 29.2% of the vote.’
‘In terms of current support, Great Britain-wide opinion polls in 2014 demonstrated significant levels of current support for UKIP over a sustained period with an average polling figure of 13.5% to 13.9%’.
‘In English local elections since 2009, the Green Party has obtained between 3.4% and 6.6% of votes. The Green Party’s average share of the vote in previous elections for mayoral posts has been 4.0%.’
‘The Green Party achieved 8.0% of the vote in the 2014 European
Parliamentary elections in England.’
‘Iin terms of current support, Great Britain-wide opinion polls in 2014 show that the Green Party has an average of 4.0%, with its highest share being 5.9% in December 2014’.
Looking at Wales, with 4.8% of the UK population
Ofcom notes the following position:
‘The four existing major parties (the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru) have demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections in Wales, all having achieved 11.3% of the vote and above in both 2005 and 2010’.
‘In relation to performance in other significant elections in Wales since 2010, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru have shown significant past electoral support in a range of elections with the lowest share of the vote being 9.6%’.
‘In terms of evidence of current support, the limited data available in terms of Wales-only opinion polls in 2014 shows significant levels of current support for the Conservative Party (23.3%), the Labour Party (41.3%) and Plaid Cymru (11.6%). The relevant polls indicate a lower level of support for the Liberal Democrats (6.6%). (Note that these figures are averages for 2014.)’
‘UKIP demonstrated significant electoral support in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections in Wales (27.6% of the vote)’.
‘In terms of evidence of current support, Wales-only opinion polls in 2014 indicated 12.8% support for UKIP’.
Looking at Scotland, with 8.4% of the UK population
Ofcom notes the following position:
‘The four existing major parties (the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) have demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections in Scotland, all having achieved 15.8% of the
vote and above in both 2005 and 2010’.
‘In relation to performance in other significant elections in Scotland since 2010, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and SNP have shown significant past electoral support in a range of elections with the lowest share of the vote being 9.9%. The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated lower levels of past electoral support in a range of significant election of between 5.2% and 7.9%’.
‘In terms of evidence of current support, the limited data available in terms of Scotland-only opinion polls in 2014 shows significant levels of current support for the Conservative Party (17.9%), the Labour Party (31.9%) and the SNP (34.9%). The relevant polls indicate a lower level of support for the Liberal Democrats (6.3%) (Note that these figures are averages for 2014)’.
‘UKIP received significant electoral support (10.5%) in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections in Scotland.’
‘In terms of evidence of current support, Scotland-only opinion polls in 2014 indicated a relatively low level of support for UKIP, with an average figure of 4.0%.’
‘No other parties have demonstrated significant levels of past electoral support or current support in Scotland, although we note that the Scottish Green Party achieved 8.1% of the vote in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections.’
Looking at Northern Ireland, with 1.8% of the UK population
Ofcom noted the position:
‘Of the five existing major parties (the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP); the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Alliance Party, the first four have demonstrated significant past electoral support in General Elections in Northern Ireland, all having achieved 15.2% of the vote and above in both 2005 and 2010. The Alliance Party achieved 3.9% and 6.3% of the vote in 2005 and 2010 respectively.’
‘Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) demonstrated significant electoral support (12.1.%) in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland’.
‘In terms of evidence of current support, the limited data available in terms of Northern Ireland-only opinion polls from 2012 to 2014 showed significant average levels of current support in the period May 2012 to October 2014 for the DUP (27.9%), Sinn Fein (24.5%), the SDLP (15.8%), the UUP (12.3%) and the Alliance Party (10.3%); Such evidence does not indicate a significant level of support for TUV (c.2.9%).
The relative value of data form results and from current polls
The trouble with opinion polls is that they can – and in fecent instances demonstrably have been – deliberately manipulated. It wojld be naive to imagine that every major political party is not doing all it can to massage every available factoid that might influence voters.
It would also be naive to imagine that only some polls are therfefore unreliable. It has been shown that a wide spectrum of polls have been manipulated through membeship of their panels.
Polls can reliably monitor the vigour, determination and capability of the organisation of political parties and together they can verify that picture. They will indicate a current direction of travel in opinion but the degree to which opinion is taking that direction cannot be tristed to be reliable.
Polls are also, by their nature, snapshots of a moment – and while a succession of moments may show a similar picture, the only certain thing about a monent is that it is unique.
The shock defeat of Neil Kinnock by John Major in the General Election of 1992 underlined both the unreliability of opinion polls and the trsnsience of moments.
In the Spetember 2014 Scottish Referendum, the respected You Gov poll for the Sunday Times showed the indepdence campaign winning by 51% to 49% in a poll taken over 2nd – 5th September.
A fortnight later, on the night of 18th September after the vote itself had closed, You Gov guru Peter Kellner – in the television studios all night, saw his company’s most recent poll predicting correctly the 55%+ win for the Union over 44%+ for independence.
Major paties may only be reliably udged by their performance at relevent elections and ranked on the number of parliamentary seats each holds, factoring in their propottion of the national vote.
Polling data may well indicate a change at the election to come but until that change has happened and is in the bag, there is no defensible formal status conferred by this source.
Recent press reveleations of tests carries out on the substance of ‘followers’ of major politicians on the new mass opium of ‘Twitter’ showed that all of their ‘follower’ numbers carried a sihnificant percentage of ’empties’. The hoder of the greatest percentage of ’empty’ followers was Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond, whose actual number was a stout 50% fewer.
There is, of course, no suggestion that any of the politicians concerned had any knowlesge of the bloated status of their ‘follower’ numbers – but this investigation does usefuly underline the insecurity of everything except results. It may well be that, in Scotland, the SNP itself cannot be sure of the percentage of substance in its accelerated growth in membership since the referendum.
If UKIP, the SNP and the Greens take significant numbers of seats in the coming 2015 General Election, there will be evidenced cases for Ofcom to examine about changes in their rankings; but even then the SNP, a separatist party determined to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, would face the trip of fielding candidates only in Scotland, should its familiar pattern repeat itself in May.
Note: the Review of Ofcom list of major political parties for elections taking place on 7 May 2015 is here online.